‘There should be no wrong door’: DC expands rights, resources for sex assault victims

The D.C. Council has passed legislation that expands the rights of sexual assault victims.

Council member Charles Allen, D-Ward 6, said the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2019 took a year and half to put together, as his team wanted to get input from survivors, health care professionals and nonprofits who work within the existing law to discuss changes.

The amendment, which passed unanimously Tuesday, is designed to help in several ways: It lowers the age of a sexual assault victim to include anyone at least 12 years old, allows for victims to get in touch with advocates over the phone if necessary, and makes it easier to apply for victims’ compensation by email rather than in person or by mail.

It also expanded hospital access. “Someone who has experienced a sexual assault should be able to go to any hospital and receive the full range of services they’re entitled to,” Allen said in front of the council at the bill’s second reading Oct. 22.

Previously, child victims would need to seek care at a specific hospital, as did adults. This amendment merged the adult and youth programs into one — the DC SANE program.

“There should be no wrong door for a sex assault victim,” Allen said, echoing the sentiment of stakeholders who helped draft the bill, including D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners, Men Can Stop Rape, D.C. Rape Crisis Center and Children’s National Hospital, among others.

The amendment also created a definition of sexual assault counselors that mirrors the definitions of domestic violence counselors and human trafficking counselors already in D.C. law, and it opened the door for additional organizations working with sex assault victims to join D.C.’s Sexual Assault Response Team.

“This legislation is about doing everything we can to support and meet the needs of victims and survivors in our community,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement. “It was critical to us that the updated SAVRAA include the feedback of victims and survivors, advocates and subject matter experts, and we are grateful to everyone who worked with us to develop, improve and pass this legislation.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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